The words we choose matter. The things we focus on matters. The same is true in the opposite direction: it matters when we choose the proper words, just as it matters what we focus on, highlight, and call attention to. Headlines, whether in a newspaper or online, on social media or on a billboard, fuse those two thoughts together: they are, by definition, supposed to present in select words what matters most out of the media a viewer is about to consume.
When it comes to headlines regarding famous female-identifying celebrities, you can typically guess the words the headlines use and the topics they focus on: beauty, fashion, body. Depending on the media outlet, these topics comprise their brand, so of course their headlines will center upon such themes. They are known for this, they are read and consumed for this, so they naturally compose a headline that fits their brand so their readers can take part in their latest media product.
Take, for instance, a headline I scrolled by today in my social media perusals that presented actor and singer Traces Ellis Ross and her recent Instagram post showing off her black string bikini. The headline I noticed belonged to Today.com’s celebrity style section, and read, “Tracee Ellis Ross, 47, poses in black string bikini on Instagram.” Thematically, this is on-brand for their website’s style section, and it is no surprise that Ross is the picture of a summertime goddess, sitting in her backyard donning a classic swimsuit paired with Nike Air Jordan sneakers. She looks beautiful, sexy, and completely confident, basking in the glow of not only the hot sun, but also in her own knowledge that she does, in fact, look like the boss she is.
Some may wonder why this photo even deserves a headline at all. Yes, fashion blogs and magazines and style sections eat it up to provide easy content to their readers. To me, it deserves attention not solely for editorial-business reasons, but because that photo might just be the encouragement someone needs to wear their own version of that swimsuit and rock it with the same confidence Ross exudes. Celebrities are, after all, seen as role models, and if they can teach us how to love ourselves and be confident in our own skin, then by all means, let us show that every single day. We all could use a healthy dose of self-love and acceptance, and if a bikini photo can encourage that, then why not spread the love?
The headline on this story, no matter how matter of fact, does stand out in another way — the mention of Ross’ age. In scrolling past it initially, it can appear as a run-of-the-mill headline, one any women’s magazine could (and do) run. It happens all the the time, so much so that we keep scrolling without giving it a second thought.
But what if her age didn’t need to be mentioned at all? She is beautiful and glowing and confident regardless of her age; her being 47 years old is merely an aside, as asterisk on all the majesty she conveys. Maybe being 47 and loving the skin you’re in no matter how many years you have lived is not only who you are, but who we all should aspire to be. Maybe being confident and happy and in love with who you are has no age limit — these things do not begin or end at a certain age, they are (and should be) evergreen. Maybe it is people like Ross who are written into headlines who can teach us how to move beyond those stereotypical depictions of beauty and confidence as equated with ‘youth’ to enjoy who and what we are at any age.
The media industry has made progress in showing that beauty knows no limitations — Maye Musk is a perfect example, who, at age 70, became a model for CoverGirl. But perhaps women like Musk, like Ross, and countless others don’t have to have their beauty stand out in relation to their age, but just because they are who they are. Perhaps we, too, can stand out because we are who we are.
So what matters today is looking beyond the headlines, looking beyond the select few words highlighted to portray just one story out of the many that may exist in the content. What matters today is recognizing that beauty and confidence is not tied to a particular age, but is instead simply part of who we are innately. What matters today recognizing that beauty and confidence in others and celebrating it to its fullest extent.
What matters most today is not comparing who we are to those examples, yet finding and celebrating who and what we are on our own — because we are all worth celebrating, today and every day.